Cover image for The Spring Will Be Ours: Poland and the Poles from Occupation to Freedom By Andrzej Paczkowski and Translated by Jane Cave

The Spring Will Be Ours

Poland and the Poles from Occupation to Freedom

Andrzej Paczkowski, and Translated by Jane Cave


$61.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-02308-3

600 pages
6.125" × 9.25"
7 maps

The Spring Will Be Ours

Poland and the Poles from Occupation to Freedom

Andrzej Paczkowski, and Translated by Jane Cave

“Writing in elegant prose, Paczkowski makes persuasive comments and judgments about this half-century of Poland's history. The Spring Will Be Ours is a masterly work.”


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Winner of a 2004 Choice Award for an Outstanding Academic Title

One can think of countries that traversed the twentieth century free from war, revolution, or social upheaval. Such countries, however, are far outnumbered by those that struggled, often constantly, with severe internal conflicts, fought in bloody wars, or were attacked by their neighbors and deprived of their sovereignty. Poland is one of the more startling examples of a country subjected to a steady stream of trials and tribulations from Hitler’s Nazi Germany through decades of Soviet repression. The Spring Will Be Ours, by one of Poland’s leading historians, is the first book written after the collapse of state socialism in 1989 to tell this dramatic story based on research in newly declassified records.

The Spring Will Be Ours focuses on the turbulent half century from the outbreak of World War II in 1939, which started the chain of events that would lead to the communist takeover of Poland, to 1989, when futile attempts to reform the communist system gave way to its total transformation. Paczkowski shows how the communists captured and consolidated power, describes their use of terror and propaganda, and illuminates the changes that took place within the governing elite. He also documents the political opposition to the regime—both inside Poland and abroad—that resulted in upheavals in 1956, 1968, 1970, 1976, and 1980. His narrative makes evident the pressures that the elite felt from above, from Moscow, and from below, from the population and from within the party. The history of Poland and the Poles is of special interest because on numerous occasions in the twentieth century this relatively small country influenced developments on a global scale.

First published in Poland in 1995, The Spring Will Be Ours has been translated into several other languages. For this edition, translated by Jane Cave, Paczkowski has added an introductory chapter on Poland’s twenty years of independence prior to 1939 and an extensive postscript exploring the changes that have taken place since the fall of communism in 1989. A bibliography of English-language works, prepared by Padraic Kenney, makes this book an indispensable starting point for anyone seeking to understand the remarkable course of events that brought an independent Poland into the twenty-first century.

“Writing in elegant prose, Paczkowski makes persuasive comments and judgments about this half-century of Poland's history. The Spring Will Be Ours is a masterly work.”
“A must-read for anyone interested in contemporary Polish history, or the development of the historical profession in Poland since 1989.”
The Spring Will Be Ours is a major achievement of Polish history. It is the first attempted synthesis of a crucial period, largely falsified in the communist writings, based on newly available sources and interpretations. Paczkowski is a seasoned historian, who writes well and who shows remarkable insights into the problems of the Polish people and republic.”
“An excellent, readable, and perceptive analysis of Poland’s modern history. Essential to a deeper understanding of the experience and orientation of America’s important new European ally.”
“Under the communist regime, Polish historians labored to make sense of the difficult history of their country, despite censorship and official ‘blank spots’ in that history. Some of that work was published by underground publishing houses, some overseas, and some was kept in desk drawers. Andrzej Paczkowski’s book represents the historical understanding that gradually emerged in Poland in the 1970s and 1980s and reached full maturity in the years following 1989 with the removal of academic restraints and access to hitherto inaccessible sources. The Spring Will Be Ours, authored by one of Poland’s leading historians, eloquently sums up this new view of history and provides major insights into the historical consciousness of the Polish intelligentsia. It is a must read for anyone interested in contemporary Polish history, or the development of the historical profession in Poland since 1989.”
“Here, in lucid, uncluttered, and dispassionate form, is Poland’s political history from September 1939, when German and Soviet tanks rolled in, until 1989, when the communist regime faded out. Paczkowski, a Polish historian, treats in great detail the wartime occupation and the dramatic decade of the 1980s: in between, he deals well, if briefly, with the creation of the regime, the explosive 1950s, and the dress rehearsals of hte 1970s. His analytical restraint and unemotional judgement inspire confidence, as does his dual role as first-hand observer and professional historian. It is, however, disconcerting that a book this scholarly has no footnotes, even for direct quotations.”
“Andrzej Paczkowski’s measured and lightly readable narrative covers every aspect of this story, and his handling of the material is masterful.”
“The book’s strengths are great and many.”
“The writing is lively and engaging. Paczkowski is very comprehensive in his coverage and does not seem to miss an issue or leave an event uncovered.”
“In summary, the book provides a rare mirror of history in which those who made, and those who were subjects of, the events described in the book can see themselves and each other. One only hopes that Paczkowski will follow this achievement with an equally rich and revealing description of the most recent Polish history.”

Andrzej Paczkowski is Professor at the Institute for Political Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, where he also is a member of the Board of the Institute of National Remembrance. He serves as editor of Intermarium: An Online Journal of East Central European Postwar History and on the editorial board of the Harvard Project on Cold War Studies. He co-authored, with Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Karel Bartosek, and Jean-Louis Margolin, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (1999).


Preface to the American Edition

Glossary of Abbreviations

Introduction: Twenty Years of Independence

Part I: Captivity and Struggle

Part II: Two Polands

Part III: The New Reality

Part IV: Constructing the Foundations

Part V: Real Socialism: The Iron Fist

Part VI: Real Socialism: La Belle Epoque

Part VII: The Long March—Prologue

Part VIII: The Long March—War and Peace

Postscript: Poland After Communism

Biographical Notes

Bibliography by Padraic Kenney


Foreword to the American Edition

Without much difficulty one can find countries and nations that managed to stay out of trouble while traversing the twentieth century. Revolutions and social upheavals passed them by, no international armed conflict took place on their territory, civil rights were respected, living conditions improved, and new technologies rapidly made their way into the everyday lives of at least the majority of their citizens. Some of these countries, like New Zealand, were situated far from the epicenter of disturbances and wars; others, like Switzerland, managed to protect themselves from the storms of history even though terrible human tragedies were occurring close by. Such countries and nations are, however, far outnumbered by those that struggled, often constantly, with severe internal conflicts, fought in bloody wars, or were attacked by their neighbors and deprived of their sovereignty.

One of the countries subjected to such painful trials and tribulations was Poland. This in itself is no reason to pay it particular attention, since any attempt to establish a ranking in terms of casualties, to calculate who endured the greatest wrongs or suffered the greatest losses is without intellectual significance, although it has considerable importance in national mythology and relations between nations. It seems to me that an outside observer will find the history of Poland and the Poles of interest, not because of the casualties, although there were many, but because on several occasions in the twentieth century this relatively small country influenced developments on a broader, global scale. This was the case in 1920, when Poland, newly reborn after more than a century of continuous occupation, fought off an offensive mounted by the Red Army, thus preventing the Bolshevik revolution from spreading to Western Europe. The revolution’s destructive potential was thereby reduced, although not destroyed, as the Soviet Union’s neighbors were made all too painfully aware in 1939-40. This was the case in 1939, when Poland became the first country to reject Hitler’s dictatorship and take up the challenge to wage war against Nazi Germany, at that time the most bloodthirsty country in Europe, thus providing an example of how, if all other means fail, a country must take up arms to defend its independence. This was also the case in 1989, when internal social conflict in Poland set in motion a process that began to transform the system. This had a domino effect across the whole Soviet bloc; attempts to reform real socialism were abandoned, the entire system was discarded, and the Soviet Union itself collapsed.

Of course, I am not trying to argue that Poland was the sole causal factor, but only that its role was significant because it obliged other countries to take action that had far-reaching consequences. In the first case, it caused the Bolshevik revolution to remain confined within the boundaries of a smaller Russian empire, a factor that undoubtedly influenced the shape of the Soviet system. In the second case, it prompted the formation of the anti-Nazi coalition that finally defeated Hitler. In the third case, it showed that it was possible to dismantle the communist system peacefully and thus encouraged its communist neighbors to make similar efforts. The history of Poland is therefore interesting not just in itself but also because the events that took place in the country exerted an influence on other countries, even those that were much more powerful.

In his book, The Age of Extremes, the noted British Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm introduced the notion of “the short twentieth century.” This covers the years 1914-1991, in other words the period from the eruption of World War I to the collapse of the Soviet Union. This approach works well in terms of world history, although individual countries may have different chronological boundaries. In the case of Poland, Hobsbawm’s boundaries fit fairly well: the outbreak of World War I and its subsequent course were indeed decisive in the rebirth of the Polish state, and the fall of the communist system in Poland preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union by only two years. One could even argue that Poland did not finally bid farewell to communism until the disappearance of the Soviet Union, which after 1989 was the only force capable of reinstalling the system in Poland, just as it had engineered its creation in 1944-45. My ambitions are, however, far more modest than those of the author of The Age of Extremes. Not only because this book deals with the history of Poland, and world history appears only in the distant background, but also in the sense that it focuses on the second half of the short twentieth century, from the outbreak of World War II to the fall of communism. I am interested in two main questions: How was a system as universal as communism introduced and made to function in a country that Lenin saw as the implacable foe of the Bolshevik revolution, and: How did a nation that had for years equated anti-communism and anti-Sovietism with the interests of both itself and the state adapt to this system?

The main part of the book begins with the outbreak of World War II, since it was at that point—or more precisely, on 23 August 1939, when the Soviet Union and the Third Reich signed what became known as the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact—that there began a sequence of events that led to fundamental changes in the affairs of Poland. As a result of Moscow’s shifting alliances (initially with Germany, and then, from mid-1940, with Britain and the United States) and the military campaign that ended with the triumphal entry of the Red Army into Berlin, Poland was changed completely. It was not just that the borders had moved or that the Holocaust and the subsequent resettlement of millions had altered the national composition of the population; Poland became part of the Soviet “internal empire” and was forced to adopt the Soviet political system. It would therefore be difficult to understand what happened after the end of the war without taking a look at what happened during the war, with the proviso that I believe the attitudes of the population and the behavior of the Polish political elite, as well as the position of the Soviet Union and the Third Reich in relation to Poland and its inhabitants, to be more important than military events. The main part of the book—which takes the form of a traditional chronological narrative—ends in 1989, when futile attempts to reform the communist system gave way to its total transformation.

This book draws on a substantial body of literature, although not every period has been equally well researched. Not surprisingly, a far greater number of monographs and memoirs have been written and far more documents have been published about the war years and the immediate postwar period than about later years. I have benefited from the work of so many Polish and foreign historians that it would be impossible to mention even the most important publications. I would, however, like to note that the work of Professor Krystyna Kersten (including her book, The Establishment of Communist Rule in Poland, 1943-48, which has been published in the United States) has been a major source of intellectual inspiration, as have the numerous conversations and discussions that we have had together. The work of Zbigniew Brzezinski was of special importance in understanding the international context, both his early book, The Soviet Bloc, and his more recent work, The Grand Failure.

Regardless of the enormous debt I owe to authors on whose work I draw, much of the information—especially concerning the years 1944-45 and 1980-89—comes from my own archival research. This research has largely focused on Polish archives, particularly documents issued by the top decision-making bodies of the communist party. I have also examined documents issued by the security apparatus, by the military authorities, and by the government and its agencies, and I have been able to examine documents collected by some communist party dignitaries. I have also had the opportunity to search the Russian archives. My research on the last ten years of communist rule benefited enormously from two international conferences devoted to the oral history of the period, which I organized together with American colleagues at the National Security Archives in Washington D.C. These focused, respectively, on the period 1980-82 and 1986-89, and participants included many of the people who played a major role in the events of those years. I have also drawn on what is called “personal knowledge.” It so happens that I am more or less the same age as the events described in this book, and there came a point—1956, to be exact—when I became a conscious and direct observer. Of course, such a situation involves the risk of losing one’s objectivity, but it also makes it easier to understand attitudes and behavior and, most of all, to develop a feel for the overall climate of a period, which is hard to recreate on the basis of documents alone.

The original Polish edition covered the years 1939-89. For this American edition I have, at the request of the publisher, somewhat expanded the chronological framework. I was persuaded by the argument that, without some information about the prewar period, the non-Polish reader would find it difficult to understand some of the events that took place in later years, I have therefore added a short introduction, entitled “Twenty Years of Independence.” Given the interest in the changes that have taken place since the fall of communism, I also agreed to add an account of developments since 1989 and to try to present the legacy of the ancien regime. This is the subject of the last section of the book, “Poland after Communism.” This edition also contains a new bibliographical appendix. Instead of providing references to Polish-language works inaccessible to the non-Polish reader, the bibliography now covers basic works that have appeared in English, which should be useful to anyone who wants to read further on the subject or compare the argument set out here with another perspective. Since my competence in the English language is somewhat limited, Dr. Padraic Kenney of the University of Colorado at Boulder, a distinguished student of Polish affairs, kindly agreed to compile the bibliography, for which he has my deepest thanks. I have also added an appendix containing short biographical notes about the most important people in the world of Polish politics, most of whom do not feature in American or British encyclopedias.

I have no intention of not complying with the custom—which, to tell the truth, has only recently arrived in Poland—of thanking the people who helped to make this book possible. Thanks are due, first of all, to those who were instrumental in relation to the original edition: Professor Jan Kofman, editor-in-chief at the PWN publishers in Warsaw, who convinced me that I would “cope” with the subject and urged me to write; Professor Wojciech Roszkowski at the Institute of Political Studies in Warsaw, the author of an overview of recent Polish history that was published before mine, who thus provided me with an additional incentive that was obviously unintentional on his part but nonetheless effective; and Adam Michnik, who twenty-five years ago persuaded me to abandon my research on Polish history during the period 1918-39 and focus instead on communist Poland on the grounds not only that it was an interesting subject but that one had to counteract the lies of the authoritarian regime; he thereby issued an intellectual, ethical, and political challenge that I could not refuse. The idea of publishing this book in the United States originated with my young colleague Tomasz Tabako in Chicago, but it would not have appeared without the kindly recommendation of several American historians (whose identity I know not) familiar with the Polish original. My greatest thanks go, of course, to my editor, Peter Potter, who was not discouraged by early difficulties in raising the necessary funding, and to my translator, Jane Cave, who has coped splendidly with my sometimes complex style of writing.

© 2003 The Penn State University

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